Confucianism Essay, Research Paper China is the land of Confucianism. Confucius has molded the Chinese view of life. The Confucian view is based on the ancient Chinese tradition. It can be stated that the view of Confucius and that of the Chinese began in the same place (Chang, 15). In subsequent centuries Confucius’ teachings exerted a powerful influence on the Chinese nation.
Confucianism Essay, Research Paper
China is the land of Confucianism. Confucius has molded the Chinese view of life. The Confucian view is based on the ancient Chinese tradition. It can be stated that the view of Confucius and that of the Chinese began in the same place (Chang, 15). In subsequent centuries Confucius’ teachings exerted a powerful influence on the Chinese nation. Therefore, the history that surrounds both Confucius as well as Confucianism is relevant to how many eastern people live their life today.
Confucius was born in 551B.C., to the noble K’ung family. He was born in the state of Lu, which is present day the Shandong in the Shantung Province. Confucius’ real name was Ch’iu, which means a hill. This was because there was a noticeable bump on his head. His literary name however is Chung-ni. These names have been rarely used because of the Chinese practice of showing reverence by avoidance. K’ung Futzu which means the Great Master has been his most popular name (DeVous and Slote 9).
Confucius was born into an impoverished noble family. At the time of his birth, the imperial court of the Chou dynasty had lost its power and the empire virtually disintegrated into a number of feudal states. Confucius’ father who was the commander of a district in Lu died three years after Confucius was born. This left the family in poverty (DeVous and Slote 12). Nevertheless, Confucius received an upscale education. Even in his childhood, Confucius liked to play ceremonies, which are a valued expression of the religious and cultural traditions. Confucius was married at the age of nineteen and had one son and two daughters. During the four years immediately after his marriage, poverty forced him to perform unskilled labors for the chief of the district in which he lived (Mungello 78).
Then in 527 B.C., Confucius’ mother died. After a period of mourning he began his career as a teacher. He usually traveled and instructed the small body of disciples that gathered around him. His reputation as a man of learning and character and his reverence for Chinese ideals and customs soon spread through the principality of Lu (Chang, 23).
Confucius was a master teacher, who was concerned with thought and action that could be potentially bring order and harmony. Confucius was said to have attracted three thousand students, of who seventy-two of which were his closest disciples. Together they mastered the six rituals including music, archery, charioteering, literature, and mathematics (DeVous and Slote, 9).
Living as he did in the second half of the Chou dynasty, Confucius deplored the contemporary disorder and lack of moral standards. He came to believe that the only remedy was to convert people once more to the principles and precepts of the sages of ancient times (Chang, 18). Therefore, he lectured to his students on the ancient classics. He taught the great value of power of example. Confucius said that rulers could only be great if they themselves lead perfect lives. If they willing to be guided by moral principles, their states would inevitably become prosperous and happy (DeVous and Slote, 11).
Confucius had no opportunity to put his theories to a public test the age of fifty. He was appointed magistrate of Chung-tu, and the next minister of crime of the state of Lu. His administration was successful. When his reforms were introduced, there was justice and crime was almost eliminated. Lu became so powerful that the ruler of a neighboring state maneuvered to secure the minister’s dismissal (Wolf 153).
Confucius left his office in 496 BC to travel and teach. He hoped that somewhere there was a prince who would allow him to carry out measures of reform. In 484 BC, after an unsuccessful search for an ideal ruler, he returned for the last time to Lu (MacInnis, 87). At the age of sixty-seven, Confucius was welcomed back to Lu by the reigning prince. A minister who was a former disciple of Confucius suggested it. He spent the remaining years of his life in retirement, writing commentaries on the classics. At the age of seventy two in 479 B.C., he died in Lu and was buried in a tomb at Ch’u-fu, Shandong (MacInnis, 327).
Confucius did not put into writing the principles of his philosophy. These were handed down only through his disciples. The Lun Yu, a work complied by some of his disciples, is considered the most reliable source of information about his life and teachings. One of the historical works that he is said to have compiled and edited, the Ch’un Ch’iu. It is an annalistic account of Chinese history in the state of Lu from 722 to 481 BC. In learning he wished to be known as a transmitter rather than as a creator. Therefore, he revived the study of ancient books. His own teachings and with those of his main disciples, are found in the Shih Shu of Confucian literature. These became the textbooks of later Chinese generations (Twitchett and Wright, 54).
Confucius was greatly established during his lifetime and in succeeding ages. Although he himself had little belief in the supernatural, he has been revered almost as a spiritual being by millions. The entire teaching of Confucius was practical and ethical, rather then religious. He claimed to be a restorer of ancient morality and held that proper outward acts based on the five virtues. These five virtues included of kindness, uprightness, decorum, wisdom, and faithfulness. They constitute the whole of human duty. Reverence for parents, living and dead, was one of his key concepts. His view of government was paternalistic, and he enjoyed all individuals to observe carefully their duties toward the state (Twitchett and Wright, 26).
The teachings of Confucius developed into the believe system called Confucianism. Confucianism is the major system of thought in China. Confucianism developed from the teachings of Confucius and his disciples. It centered on the principles of good conduct, practical wisdom, and the proper social relationships. Confucianism has influenced the Chinese attitude toward life, set the patterns of living and standards of social value, and provided the background for Chinese political theories and institutions (Nivison 80-81). Confucianism has spread from China to Korea, Japan, and Vietnam and has aroused interest among Western scholars (Bush, 268).
Although Confucianism became the official ideology of the Chinese state, it has never existed as an established religion with a church and priesthood. Chinese scholars honored Confucius as a great teacher and sage but did not worship him as a god. Confucius also never claimed to be a god. Unlike Christian churches, the temples built to Confucius were not places were not places in which organized community groups gathered to worship, but public places designed for annual ceremonies. This was especially true on the philosopher’s birthday. Several attempts to idolize Confucius and to proselyte Confucianism failed because of the essentially worldly nature of the philosophy (Bush, 374).
The principles of Confucianism are contained in the nine ancient Chinese works handed down by Confucius and his followers, who lived in an age of great philosophic activity. These writings can be divided into two groups: the Five Classics and the Four Books (DeVous and Slote, 3).
The Five Classics or the Wu Ching originated before the time of Confucius. The Five Classics of Confucianism were works from the Zhou Dynasty that preceded the Warring States Period. They were collected and edited by members of the original Confucian school. These are the Classics, which would be studied by centuries of Chinese scholars. After Confucianism became the official state philosophy, one had to know the Classics well to gain the coveted position of government official. The Five Classics consist of the following works: the I Ching or Book of Changes, Shu Ching or Book of History, the Shih Ching or Book of Poetry, the Li Chi or Book of Rites and the Ch’un Ch’iu or Spring and Autumn Annals (Mungello, 73).
The I Ching or Book of Changes is a manual of divination probably compiled before the eleventh century B.C. Confucius and his disciples may have written its supplementary philosophical portion, contained in a series of appendixes, later. In the Zhou Dynasty, the I Ching was used for foretelling the future. It was an oracle used to analyze situations and to decide the proper course of action. The I Ching contained sixty-four hexagrams which each represented a certain stage in the cycle of the universe. More importantly, the I Ching contained the concept of the universe moving in cycles. There were only sixty-four hexagrams, sixty-four states of being for the universe, and it was constantly moving through the sixty-four, starting again at the beginning when it reached the end (Wolf, 133).
The name Classic of Changes also originates from this, since the universe is always in a state of change. These cycles would become a dominant theme in Chinese culture. The Chinese would apply the idea of cycles to their concepts of time, life, and people. The rule of dynasties moved in cycles, from the mythically good first ruler to the degenerate last ruler of each dynasty. Life was a cycle, moving upwards from birth to a peak and then declining into death. This also led to the awareness that everything in the universe is related. If there are only sixty-four states of being, then these states must be shared by each thing in the cosmos, and as a result, all things are related to each other (Chang, 110).
The Shu Ching is a collection of ancient historical documents. The Shu Ching consists of The Book of Documents and The Book of History. It is a collection of documents that claim to go back to the Shang Dynasty, which was the first historical dynasty of China. The Shu Ching is more important for the fact that it is the earliest work of history and political science in Chinese history. The Shu Ching depicts history as a process of change, much like the I Ching. History is also regarded as a way for humanity to reflect on past events and learn from them (Chang, 69)
The Shu Ching introduces the concept of the Mandate of Heaven, which would be important from then on in Chinese history. The Mandate of Heaven is the idea that Heaven chooses who is worthy to rule according to virtue. Even though it is usually unwise to upset the order of things, if a ruler is lacking in virtue it is acceptable for a more virtuous dynasty to rise and take over. The Mandate of Heaven could have been the Zhou Dynasty’s way of justifying their taking power from the previous Shang Dynasty. A religious system is also set down in the Shu Ching, placing Heaven above, the Earth below, and humans as the link in between. Omens from the past are recorded, as are pilgrimages and sacrifices. The Shih Ching or Book of Poetry is an anthology of ancient poems (Chang, 96).
The Shi jing, commonly known as the Book of Songs, Book of Odes, and Book of Poetry is the earliest literary tradition of China. It is a collection of songs and poetry. These were both formal and informal. They are from imperial poets and farming peasants. The songs range from political protests to love poems to drinking songs, but in the Confucian tradition many are interpreted to be illustrations of the people’s feelings towards the government (Chang, 278).
The Li Chi deals with the principles of conduct, including the rules to be observed at public and private ceremonies. It was destroyed in the third century B.C., but presumably much of its material was preserved in a later collection, the Record of Rites. The Book of Rites stems from Confucius’ near-obsession with ritual. Ritual was central to Confucianism, and the Book of Rites is the etiquette guide for the proper gentleman or woman, or shu. It contains guidelines for almost any imaginable activity, from grand state ceremonies to the proper way to lie in your bed when you sleep (Nivision, 81). The Book of Rites also regulates interpersonal relationships, civil behavior. According to Confucius ritual was important because it was what separated humans from animals. Showing proper behavior in relationships with others was also important because it reinforced the concept of universal order, the social hierarchy, and therefore the order of the state (Twitchett and Wright, 78).
The Ch’un Ch’iu, the only work reputedly compiled by Confucius himself, is a chronicle of major historical events in feudal China from the eighth century B.C. to the time of Confucius’s death early in the fifth century B.C. The Ch’un Ch’iu book is commonly known as Spring and Autumn Annals. This is the classic most associated with Confucius. It consists of records of the events in Confucius’ home state of Lu between the years of 782 BC and 481 BC. The authors were making use of praise and blame history. They imposed their values on the events they recorded (Chang 23).
The Shih Shu or the Four Books are compilations of the sayings of Confucius and Menius and of commentaries by followers on their teachings. The Four Books consist of Lun Yu or Analects, Ta Hsueh or The Great Learning, the Chung Yung or The Doctrine of Mean, and the Menius or Book of Menius (Nivision, 55).
The keynote of Confucian ethics is jen. Jen can be translated as love, goodness, humanity and human heartedness. Jen is a supreme virtue representing human qualities at their best (Twitchett and Wright, 9). In human relations, construed as those between one person and another, jen is manifested in Chung, or faithfulness to oneself and others, and shu, or unselfishness. This is best expressed in the Confucian golden rule, “Do not do to others what you do not what done to yourself” (Chang, 59).
Other important Confucian virtues include righteousness, propriety, integrity, and filial piety. One who possesses all these virtues becomes a chun-tzo or perfect gentleman. Politically, Confucius advocated a paternalistic government in which the sovereign is benevolent and honorable and the subjects are respectful and obedient. The ruler should cultivate moral perfection in order to set a good example to the people. In education Confucius upheld the theory, remarkable for the feudal period in which he lived, that in education, there is no class distinction (Mungello, 89).
After the death of Confucius two major schools of Confucius two major schools of Confucian thought emerged. One was represented by Mencius, the other by Hsun-tzo. Mencius continued the ethical teachings of Confucius by stressing the innate goodness of human nature. He believed that original human goodness can become corrupt through one’s own destructive effort or through contact with an evil environment. The problem of moral cultivation is therefore to preserve or at least to restore the goodness that is one’s birthright. In political thought, Mencius is sometimes considered one of the earliest advocates of democracy. He advanced the idea of the people’s supremacy in the state (MacInnis, 326).
In conflict to Mencius, Hsun-tzo contended that a person is born with an evil nature but that it can be regenerated through moral education. He believed that desires should be guided and restrained by the rules of propriety and that character should be molded by an orderly observance of rites and by the practice of music (Twitchett and Wright, 265). This code serves as a powerful influence on character by properly directing emotions and by providing inner harmony. Hsun-tzo was the main exponent of ritualism in Confucianism (MacInnis, 327).
Confucianism became considered in the late Chou period one of six major philosophical schools. The others included Taoism, Legalism, the School of Yin-Yang, and the School of the Dialecticians. It was not until the Han dynasty that Confucianism was adopted as the state of belief (DeVous and Slote, 142).
After a brief period of disappearance in the third century B.C., Confucianism was revived during the Han dynasty. The Confucian works, copies of which had been destroyed in the preceding period, were restored to favor, canonized, and taught by scholars in national academies (Nivision, 99). The works also formed the basis of later civil service examinations. Candidates for responsible governments positions received their appointments on the strength of their knowledge of classic literature. As a result, Confucianism secured a firm hold on Chinese intellectual and political life (Chang, 87).
The success of Han Confucianism was attributable to Tung Chung-shu, who first recommended a system of education built upon the teachings of Confucius. Tung Chung-shu believed in a close correspondence between human beings and nature. Therefore, a persons deeds are often responsible for unusual phenomena in nature. A persons deeds can take the blame for such things as fires, flood, earthquake, and eclipses. These omens can descend on earth as a warning to humanity that all is not well in this world, the fear of heavenly punishment proves useful as a curb to the monarch’s absolute power (Bush, 110).
However, the Han dynasty ended with political chaos. Confucianism then became overshadowed by the rival philosophies of Taoism and Buddhism. Nevertheless, the Confucian Classics continued to be the chief source of learning for scholars, and with the restoration of peace and prosperity in the T’ang dynasty, the spread of Confucianism was encouraged. Confucian scholars once again ensured them the highest bureaucratic positions. Confucianism returned as a conventional state of teaching (Mungello, 58).
The intellectual activities of the Sung dynasty gave rise to a new system of Confucian thought based on a mixture of Buddhist and Taoist element. The new school of Confucian is known as Neo-Confucianism (DeVous and Slote, 81). The scholars who evolved this intellectual system were themselves well versed in the other two philosophies. Although primarily teachers of ethics, they were also interested in the theories of the universe and the origin of human nature (Chang, 60).
Neo-Confucianism branched out into two schools of philosophy. The primary exponent of one school was Chu His, an important thinker. He was second only to Confucius and Mencius who established a new philosophical foundation for the teachings of Confucianism by organizing scholarly opinion into a cohesive system. According to the Neo-Confucianist system Chu Hsi represented, all objects in nature. Nature is composed of li an insignificant universal principle or law, and ch’I the substance of which all material things are made (Chang, 120).
Ch’I may change and dissolve, li, the underlying law of the many things, remains constant and indestructible (Wolf, 38). Chu Hsi further identifies the li in humankind with human nature is the same for all people. The phenomenon of particular differences can be attributed to the varying proportions and densities of the ch’I found among individuals. Those who receive a ch’I that is dirty will find their original nature to restore its purity. Purity can be achieved by extending one’s knowledge of the li in each individual object. One becomes a sage when, one has investigated and comprehended the universal li or natural law inherent in all animate and inanimate objects (Nivision, 218-219).
Opposed to the li (law), school is the hsin (mind) school of Neo Confucianism. The chief exponent of the hsin school was Wang Yangning, who taught the unity of knowledge and practice. His major proposition was that apart from the mind, neither law nor object exists. In the mind are personified all the laws of nature, and nothing exists without the mind. One’s supreme effort should be to develop the intuitive knowledge of the mind, not through intense thought and calm meditation (Wolf, 29).
During the Ch’ing dynasty there was a strong reaction to both the li and hsin schools of Neo Confucian thought. Ch’ing scholars advocated a return to the earlier and supposedly more authentic Confucianism of the Han period, when it was still unmodified by Buddhist and Taoist ideas (Bush, 384). They developed textual criticism of the Confucian Classics based on scientific methodology, using philology, history, and archaeology to reinforce their scholarship. In addition, scholars such as Tai Chen introduced an empiricist point of view into Confucian philosophy (MacInnis, 152).
Toward the end of the nineteenth century the reaction against Neo Confucian metaphysics took a different turn. Instead of confining themselves to textual studies. Confucian scholars took an active interest in politics and formulated reform programs based on Confucian doctrine (Overmyer, 120). K’ang Yuwei, a leader of the Confucian reform movement, made an attempt to exalt the philosophy as a national religion. The reform movements failed because of foreign threats to China and the urgent demand for drastic political measures (DeVous and Slote, 331).
In the intellectual confusion that followed the Chinese revolution of 1911, Confucianism was identified as corrupt and inflexible. Confucianism lost its hold on the nation, with the collapse of the monarchy and the traditional family structure, from which much of its strength and support was derived. In the past, it often had managed to get rid of adversities and to emerge with renewed vigor, but during this period of unprecedented social upheavals it lost its previous ability to adapt to changing circumstances (Twitchett and Wright, 93).
In the view of some scholars, Confucius will be revered in the future as China’s greatest teacher. Confucian classics will be studied, and Confucian virtues, embodied for countless generations in the familiar sayings and common sense wisdom of the Chinese people, will remain the cornerstone of ethics. It is doubtful that Confucianism ever again will play the dominant role in Chinese political life and institutions that it did in past centuries (Bush, 359).
The Chinese Communist victory of 1949 underlined the uncertain future of Confucianism. Many Confucian based traditions were put aside. The family system, for instance, much revered in the past as a central Confucian institution, was de-emphasized. Few Confucian classics were published, and official campaigns against Confucianism were organized in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s (MacInnis, 361).
Bush Jr., Richard C. Religion in Communist China. New York: Abingdon Press, 1970.
Berling, Judith A. Asian Religions. 1982. http://www.askasia.org/frclasrm/readings/r000004.htm.
De Vos George A and Walter H. Slote ed. Confucianism and the Family. New York: State University, 1998.
MacInnis, Donald E. Religious Policy and Practice in Communist China. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972.
Mungello, David E. Leibniz and Confucianism the Search for Accord. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1977.
Nivison, David S. The Ways of Confucianism. ed. Bryan W. Van Norden. Chicago: Carus Publishing Company, 1996.
Overmyer, Daniel L. Religions of China. San Francisco: Harper and Row Publishers, 1986.
Twitchett, Denis and Arthur F. Wright ed. Confucian Personalities. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962.
Wolf, Arthur P. ed. Religion and Ritual in Chinese Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974.
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